Sunday, June 23, 2013

Is the Kingdom of God Geographical or non-Geographical?

It is common in NT studies to state that the kingdom of God is a non-geographical concept. Rather, it relates to God’s rule. There is good reason for this. First, the Kingdom of God stands in marked contrast to the idea of a Kingdom based around the land of Israel and especially Jerusalem, Zion, and the temple. Rather, the Kingdom Jesus inaugurated is truly international and not localised geographically. Jesus did not fulfil the expectations of Israel in regards to and Israel-centred Kingdom. Rather, he sent the disciples from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, the whole of the world, the four winds, every nation, to preach the gospel and make disciples. This is the establishment of a non-geographical kingdom, at least in a sense. That is, one can be a Christian (or subject of the Kingdom) in any time and place. The Kingdom then is truly impartial, “in Christ Jesus there neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Gal 3:28). The Kingdom’s people are gathered from every nation, those who yield to Jesus as King and live under his reign wherever they are found. So, it is right at one level to resist the idea of a geographical locale for the Kingdom.

However, to me there is a patent weakness in stating that there is no geographical locus for the Kingdom and simply state the above. That is this, the Kingdom is in fact geographical in a very real sense—its geographical locus is the entire world (and one can say, all of creation). The Scriptures state, “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Ps 24:1).” In royal Psalms, such as in Ps 99:1-3, God reigns over all the earth. This gives a very real geographical point of reference for the Kingdom, the world. However, no one part of that world has privilege. So, I would suggest that rather than say that the Kingdom is not a geographical idea, we should rather say that it is in one sense non-geographical, but in another sense, geographical—the whole world.

God’s mission in Christ is a restoration of a whole world. In the interim between the resurrection and consummation God is gathering a people from the whole world and the whole world is being transformed by God through his people. At the consummation when the King returns, the whole world will be set free from its bondage to decay (Rom 8:21). If we lack the cosmic perspective of the biblical story, we tend to play down the cosmic dimensions of the mission of Christ; things like ecology, the transformation of society, and social justice. On the other hand, if we play down the ‘non-geographical’ dimensions, we can tend to sell out to a social gospel, we falsely privilege a people or a culture. We threaten the radical egalitarianism of the gospel. 

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